Northampton Saints braced for Chris Ashton departure

Chris Ashton has 18 caps for England
Chris Ashton has won 18 caps for England

Chris Ashton could leave Northampton Saints at the end of the season, BBC Sport understands.

The England winger's contract expires next year and he is free to talk to other clubs in January.

Ashton, who has become a key player since making the switch from rugby league, is being linked to Saracens.

Asked if Ashton wants to stay, Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: "I'm not too sure - you'd have to ask him."

Ashton is currently suspended after being handed a four-week ban for "an act contrary to good sportsmanship".

The incident took place in his side's 30-25 Premiership defeat to Leicester as Ashton appeared to drag Alesana Tuilagi off the pitch by his hair.

A touchline brawl ensued and Tuilagi and Northampton flanker Tom Wood were both sent off by referee Wayne Barnes.

The ban meant Ashton missed Northampton's Heineken Cup 41-22 defeat to Castres on Saturday, which means they cannot qualify for the quarter-finals.

The 24-year-old, who joined Saints from Super League side Wigan Warriors in 2007, has been linked with a move to Saracens, where his best friend Joel Tomkins and former team-mate Andy Farrell are currently employed.

His departure would be a blow to the Saints, and Mallinder told BBC Radio Northampton: "You want to keep all your best players.

"If players want to leave, contracts are up all the time for different players and you can't worry too much about that.

"You want to keep players who want to play for the club and it's a simple as that."

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